Saturday, October 27, 2007

today : adults only

The other day I was listening to Elgar's Cello Concerto and drinking a tot of malt. Now I am not a habitual drinker. I can go for months without touching alcohol at all. In fact, there are plenty of alcoholic drinks that I don't even like. Wine for instance. Sometimes it is wonderful, but much of the time I can take or leave it. Unlike many who don't drink I possess no moral stance against alcohol, nor am I in a twelve step programme. I just don't care for it much.

Actually there is a reason why I forswear drinking. If you have mobility issues, then reliance on a car is paramount. Couple that with the sheer amount of painkillers I tend to take, then alcohol doesn't go well in the mix. Rather than being a social lubricant, it becomes restrictive. This, I must admit has led to many a night when I have watched the evening get away from me. Even in a lightly toasted (why doesn't use the word 'tight' anymore to describe intoxication. It seems to have died out in the seventies?) state, a room full of people move psychologically and socially into a place the non-drinker finds hard to access.

Anyway, I digressed away from what I was really thinking about. That is : when did I become an adult?

If you saw me you would think this obvious, as I am clearly a middle aged man. Yet adulthood isn't really about looks. It's more about attitude. It's a concept. A friend of mine who is only slightly younger than I recently bought a house and complained about the sheer responsibility of getting broken bits of it fixed. The roof and the floor were just going to sit there in a state of brokenness until they took on the task of sorting it out. No more calling the landlord.

Which brings me back to single malt whisky. I do like a nip now and again, and keep a decent bottle or two in the house. Whisky is a defiantly adult drink and drinking it is an adult experience. You almost never see young people drinking whiskey. I imagine that appreciation of malt requires a maturity of palate. Let's face it, whiskey is pretty awful in many ways. It's bitter, very strong and has little sweetness to soften the taste. It is, all in all, a rather jagged experience.

Now I'm sure there are millions of people who have written rapturously about whiskey. I'm not going to attempt anything like that. But suffice to say that jaggedness, the sheer borderline unpleasantness, is where the pleasure lies. Whiskey drinking isn't easy. It's complex and challenging. Whiskey is one of those drinks that almost defies you to like it.

Somewhere down the line this became appealing to me. When was that?

today : girl in water

© photo by me 2007

Sunday, October 21, 2007

today : oh my God I still can't believe it.

Personally I don't believe in a creator. None of the organised religious doctrines add up to me. There are always unbridgable gaps in logic. I guess that's where faith comes in. In my teenage years I flirted with religion but even though I tried quite hard, just could never bring myself to make the leap of faith. I always wanted more answers before I made a decision.

Now that doesn't mean that I am closed to religion. What disturbs me slightly about the new atheism is that it seems to be predicated on actively disliking religion and even (as Ainsley Hayes accuses Sam and Josh in season one of the West Wing when they talk about gun control) hating the people. Dawkins rhetoric is inflammatory, such as aligning religious education with child abuse. And I don't disagree with that it some ways. Anything that removes choice from a person's repertoire by making it taboo is to be frowned upon. Clearly Dawkins' mission is to promote atheism as a proactive ideology rather than a passive, disinterested stance, and his language does the job admirably.

Yet personally I can't quite bring myself to dislike or even disrespect the vast majority of Christians, Muslims or whatever that I know. I even recently met a Wiccan (although I think that he wasn't really a practising Wiccan, given that I knew more about his religion than he did. I think it was just a pose). I guess in this way my feelings are similar to when I was a teenager. Only this time I can't quite bring myself to make the leap of lack of faith.

I've touched on this before but what makes me uncomfortable is the increasing level at which religion is derided as a matter of course. Yes, I am deeply uncomfortable about the more fringe elements of the radical right. in the USA. But I am willing to bet that most American Christians are either fairly decent people or don't know any better. Few of them possess the malevolence of money grabbing preachers or racist talk show hosts. Similarly, I don't know a practising declared Muslim or Christian who isn't wholly focused on their family and pretty much wholly committed to being...well, nice. And it's the niceness that I find appealing about religious folk. However bizarre and illogical their belief in a creator, the moral framework that religion gives them generally means that they at least, try to be pleasant.

Ultimately, whatever your opinion of religions themselves, there are more religious people who don't use their belief in a creator as a reason or a pretext for war than those that do.

Friday, October 19, 2007

today : oh my God I can't believe it

It's dead trendy these days to be an atheist. I'm not talking about the kind of passive atheism of the regular non-churchgoer (which could maybe best described as mere disinterest), but since everyone's been reading Richard Dawkins book The God Delusion, it has now become fashionable among the kind of dinner party intellectuals who read popular science books to declare their disbelief in any kind of creator in between insisting that Rudy Giuliani's Zero Tolerance wasn't really the cause of the decline in crime in New York, but that the introduction of abortion 20 years previously was the key factor...because statistics prove it.

Dawkins brand of zealous atheism is an interesting and odd phenomenon. Perhaps he is expressing, and crystallising, the feelings of many people, but this outbreak of atheism is basically a lot of people declaring allegiance to a negative. How odd would it be to write a book and attach an 'ism' to, for example, people who dislike cheese. Unfromagism. Or everyone who doesn't support Man Utd. Antifergusonism. In fact it's quite a good game to invent negative ism,. abonoism: don't like U2, antiastrosim : don't believe in horoscopes, aterrapiazzism : lack of belief that the earth is flat.

I wonder if the whole 'new atheism' is a rather serious phenomenon. After all God has been on His last legs for almost a century. But the current times (end or not) are battered by the breakers of belief. What with fundamentalist Christianity on one side and fundamentalist Islam on the other, with a myriad of bizarre beliefs inbetween, perhaps iteration of faith in the visible is some kind of reaction to the irrational nature of the forces that are shaping and threatening the world.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

today : When the hammer falls

Little do they know but in a few years they will probably be dead

Like many men of my age, I am acutely aware of the fact that bits of me are wearing out. It can lead to accusations of hypochondria, which I counter by waving my disabled credentials at people. In fact, further proof comes from the fact that the NHS would not spend the money on fixing me were there nothing wrong: ergo I can't be a middle aged hypochondriac but actually ill. So I am about to face a pretty major operation to fix my ankle and allow me to walk again without excruciating pain. Naturally, I am worried. There is a significant chance the operation may fail, leading me to never walking again. And that is before I start to think about the fact that operations can go hideously wrong and kill people, as well as MRSA and the like.

But the main worry I am having is being incapacitated for several months. I will be more or less unable to move. This means that despite my better instincts I will probably give in to the temptations of boredom and switch on the TV during the day. I am not looking forward to it, because daytime TV is definitely the worst invention of modern times.

I don't remember the beginning of daytime TV in the modern sense. The earliest I recall is Afternoon Plus, which I am pretty sure featured Judith Chalmers before she turned orange (she was in black and white in those days, so I can't be sure). This must have been from when I was a small child in the early to mid seventies. Afternoon Plus featured the usual housewifey interest items such as yoga, cookery, how to sew curtains and becoming emotionally stable in a fraught, loveless and deeply unsatisfying marriage with only small doses of Valium. Later, there was Crown Court. Still one of the best shows ever on TV. It was cheaply made on one set and, in playing out single court cases, had a small cast. I remember being utterly gripped by it all. In fact I can't fathom why it hasn't been revived. Not only are court cases essentially gripping, but a show like this would fulfil a public service remit - seeing as, in this country we know more about the US legal system than our own.

Fast forward to the present day. Afternoon Plus kind of still exists in the shape of This Morning, which features a range of housewifey interest items from yoga all the way to cookery. But elsewhere the schedules have been consumed by a bunch of self replicating clone shows that are all different spins on buying, selling and cookery. In the case of buying and selling you have two choices : antiques or houses. One glance at the morning's TV schedules reveals :

Grand Designs,
Trade Secrets, How Clean Is Your House?, Property Ladder, Location, Location, Relocation, Relocation, Selling Houses, A Place In The Sun, DIY SOS, Homes Under The Hammer, Escape to The Country, To Buy or Not to Buy, Cash in the Attic, Bargain Hunt, Sun, Sea and Bargain Spotting Car Booty, Flog It

Oftentimes these shows are on consecutively. So that the daytime becomes an infinite vortex of valuations, makeovers and 'character' auctioneers. The BBC ones like Flog it or Cash in The Attic also endlessly drag out the action, so there is a valuation, a reminder of the valuation, another reminder of the valuation when the thing gets to auction, a couple more reminders of the valuation during the auction, a declaration of the sold price (with a valuation reminder on screen just to be sure), a reminder of how much the item went for, a pointless guessing interlude where the presenter wonders how much the running total is so far, followed by a voiceover reminding us how much we were after and how much short or long the prices are so far, followed by, at the end of the auction, another guess at the possible total followed by an announcement of the total and how much short or long it is of the target amount. In short, it is TV for people with Alzheimer's.

The shows are presented by the kind of people whom, in the past would have made half a living writing shallow articles for Womens' Realm and the Readers Digest Monthly. On daytime TV they are the 'experts'. The valuers are mainly antiques dealers who have watched too many episodes of Lovejoy, and many consider themselves eccentric. Now we all know that the worst thing in the world is someone who considers themself eccentric, wacky or in any way a 'personality'. They are, without fail, the shallowest and most annoying people you could ever meet. Why do they end up on telly? Is there not a person somewhere in TV land who has the nouse and the balls to just say no to these people? It seems not. It seems they roll out the red carpet and give them money.

It's like handing out guns to terrorists.

The house shows are just as bad. In fact they are pernicious and evil as well as being tedious. The nation is in the grip of a neverending obsession with house prices, which in part is fuelled by the obsession pumping out of the corner of the living room all day every day,
In the past people who bought a house, bought the house and then proceeded to remake it in their own image. It was a long term project. These days there seems to be some idea that people want to buy a house straight out of a magazine (or a TV show). The TV shows fuel this expectation. In effect the cost of upgrading a house in your own image, rather than being spread over several decades, is put onto the initial buying price of the property. In the past people bought a house to live in. Nowadays people don't talk about houses and homes, but 'The Property Ladder'. Making money from property is apparently the main objective of purchasing a house. I know people who literally sit at home with a calculator working out how much they have made each day from the rise in the value of their house.

The thing that the house shows don't do is actually explain that house prices can (and will) go up as well as down and that there is no inevitability in an inexorable rise in 'prices' (when these people say prices, what they actually mean is values, but the underlying concepts of economics are generally beyond these preening buffoons). When the hammer falls on the property bubble we will look back on these endless shows as quaint reminders of the time when we all thought the party would never end - a bit like those charming home movies of people barrelling around in open top cars and throwing beach balls to each other during the inter-war years.

So what will I do with my time when I am incapacitated? Probably listen to the World Service and do jigsaws.

Monday, October 15, 2007

today : to lose one leader...

Whoops, dem libdems shoulda listened to their uncle saltydog two years ago when they were warned not to chicken out from choosing simon hughes as their leader. but, of course they did, given that it turned out he was gay n'all. so they went with the safe pair of hands that turned out to be so safe, not even the safest of safe-lovin' voters would vote for them. of course, they've gone n done it again. flatlining poll numbers mean nothing, especially on the back of a tory bounce created solely by a media who were cheesed off that they didn't get to write their 'brown's faltering start' stories (with a little help from brown's spin doctors, whom, fearful of their jobs post tony, decided to spin brown a little too hard until he fell off of the slippery rotating disc like some Jeux Sans Frontieres contestant dressed as a giraffe and carrying a bucket of jelly).

so they are back at sq 1. only now hughes is a party elder and unwilling to run. i don't blame him, maybe he didn't want all the homophobic innuendo and 'investigations' that would come his way, as they would any openly gay party leader.

for all the reasons i have stated before - quick recap, the party system needs a centre to stop us from becoming ridiculous like America and to hold the magnetic centre between the left's tendency to become shouty student activists with right-on piercings and finicky right on-ness, and the right's tendency to want to murder non-whites and lurk around the doors of Netto stealing money off the poor, plus who will people in Cornwall vote for? - the libdems need to get their act together, and quick. Ming was pretty useless as a leader, but Kennedy wasn't. I wonder if he's got his refuelling under control? Y'never hear about it. They need someone, if not openly gay, but
really liberal, to make Cameron look like the establishment wolf in family friendly clothing that he is, and to remind labour that authority and authoritarianism are not the same thing, despite being close to each other in the dictionary.

today : no need for satire

Thursday, October 11, 2007

today : 2 o' clock

© photo by me 2007

today : excuses excuses (and ouch!)

It is unusual for me not to post for a week. However, an operation on my bad ankle has made it very difficult for me to type. Why? you may well legitimately ask. Surely your fingers are not affected adversely by a procedure on your ankle?

Your logic would be sound, because my fingers are not affected at all. But, as I cannot get up the stairs to the computer, this point would be immaterial.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

today : clouds at dusk

© photo by me 2007

today : unrewriting history

I am pretty sure that weddings count as normal social occasions, and the one I attended at the weekend seemed such. Yet for me it was not normal. Friday I knew that I was going to struggle, as a stress fracture in my foot was causing me a lot of pain. Also, due tot he fracture, a slight over-reliance on my other foot over previous days was giving me trouble too. Both my feet are painful and afflicted by various problems. Only this was one of the times when it was just worse. Both were injured and both were agonising.

Waking up early Saturday morning I pretty much couldn't walk. By this I mean that the pain meant that I could barely put my feet to the floor. Actual movement was next to impossible. Yet I had a wedding to attend. I am extremely fond of the bride (yet another of my favourite women
mystifyingly marrying someone who isn't me) and did not want to miss her special day.

I climbed in the car and set off for the 300 mile drive from where I live to the venue in Scotland. Upon arrival I decided that I would simply try and do what I always do, which is to make it through and just ignore the pain. I tried. I really did, but ended up leaving before the wedding breakfast and driving the 300 miles home.

When I made the decision to leave I made light of it. I wrote the history thus:
"It's fine. I'm just having one of those bad days. I'm oh-so glad that I came. It was a lovely wedding. I'm ever so sorry I can't stay longer..."
As well as the fact that we disabled people tend to live on little enough money that even one night in a very well appointed country hotel is just another
unpayable debt; so staying late and therefore staying over was out of the question, it wasn't really fine.

Yes, I was having a particularly bad day: in more pain than usual and less able to ignore it. But this normal social occasion was simply out of my reach. It started with standing around in the bar chatting. What can you do but sit down, and therefore be under the conversation of the other adults and too immobile to to join in with the kids?

After the ceremony, which was delightful, there were the photographs. Two steep flights of stairs were easier than walking a hundred yards to a lift, so I negotiated them. The photographic set up was in the middle of a lawn, accessible by some more steps or a steep grassy bank. Everyone wandered onto the lawn, accepting canapes and drinks from the mingling waiters. I stood, leaning against a low window sill, and watched the guests head across the grass to where the photographer wanted them. I then watched the waiters go by, taking the canapes and drinks to the assembled revellers. They walked by me far enough away that I wasn't in their focus, but too far away for me to hail them without shouting. The photographer walked past me and went back up the steps to a balcony, where he ran through his little script, gathering the guests in groups for their photos. Then he moved people to the other side of the lawn where more groups were photographed on the steps of a summer house.

The waiters took more drinks out onto the lawn. Clearly the photographs were finished but the guests were encouraged to mingle on the grass for almost another hour. After about 10 minutes I headed inside. The party was happening 100 yards from me and I had nowhere to sit down. I shuffled my way to the lift (ironically there were stairs to get to it) and went back upstairs. I decided to wait in the dining room. So I found my place and sat down to wait. After a minute or two a nice hotel staff member informed me that the dining room wasn't yet prepared and would I mind moving next door to the ballroom? So I stood up again and walked to the ballroom to wait. About another half an hour elapsed before the other guests were ushered back indoors. As they arrived, someone started up some music and an emcee began to instruct how everyone to dance a traditional reel. This was a prelude to the post meal entertainment - which was to be a Ceilidh.

It was at this moment that I decided to leave. The flow of social activities for the day involved nothing I was physically capable of joining in with. Nothing that did not, or would not, cause me more pain. The steps and getting to the lift had increased the level to about an eight and a half out of ten. The
endorphins were kicking in and I had no appetite.

What actually happened was that I borrowed
someone's room key and went to lie down. I knew it wasn't going to work, in terms of getting me physically back in the game, but I didn't want anyone to think I had left impolitely, without appearing to try. I really didn't want there to be a fuss. I have been to enough weddings where some guests try and make the day about themselves rather than the marrying couple and I think it selfish and appalling. I also absolve the bride or groom. Neither was in any way responsible for my position. They had to be attentive to everyone there, and neither of them is my personal assistant, advocate or Mother. I stayed in the room for two hours or more, until the meal and speeches were over.

The fact is that the history I wrote when I left was mostly false. The service was pleasant, but every other part of the day was nightmarish for me. I am used to being in pain. That's just a regular thing. But the real reason I left was the absolute feeling of exclusion. There was this party happening and every part of it was predicated on being able bodied. Going up and downstairs,
mingling on the lawn, dancing a reel, being turfed out of my seat for not being like the other guests, even getting to a room (had I booked one). I was, by necessity, abandoned on the sidelines. I ended up with my nose pressed against the window, watching life happen inside. I may as well have just not been there. And as far as records show, I wasn't. The photographer simply hadn't thought to change his routine so I could be included, so I was just left out. The world of this normal social occasion could not handle someone abnormal, so I was ignored.

It was only luck that meant as I was leaving he was too. I grabbed him and insisted he took a photo of me with the happy couple. Had our paths not intersected, then I would have been excised as well as excluded, like some disgraced Soviet general being airbrushed, or a mad cousin hidden in an asylum so as not to bring shame on the family.